Project Team

FIU partners posing outside FIU Wall of Wind

Principal Investigators and Co-Organizers

Dr. Olson is a veteran disaster researcher, responder, and evaluator who now focuses primarily on disaster risk reduction policies and programs and disaster risk management, with a particular interest in public support for stronger building standards and more hazard-aware land use. As team lead, Dr. Olson supervises the overall project, coordinates the components, and facilitates inter-component synergy so that in the end the project’s “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
A conflict and peace analyst by training, Dr. Washington particular interest focuses on civil society, marginalized communities, and collective action. Her approach for supporting community engagement is shaped by her work in Conflict and Peace Studies and African and African Diaspora Studies as well as her own lived experiences as a person of Gullah descent. She will focus on relationships with the project’s external and internal Collaboratory members and support the coordination and enrichment of various activities associated with both sharing community and academic knowledge to mitigate risk and increase proactive sustainable resilience.
A Russian (and European) history and culture scholar by training, Dr.Friedman is a leading advocate for the humanities as a core component, and really the heart, of university and university-community life. With external and internal Collaboratory organizations, Dr. Friedman will focus on developing and supervising the implementation of the humanities components of the project and will coordinate closely with Dr. Grenier in areas where the humanities share conceptual, programmatic, and operational space with the humanistic social sciences.
A sociologist by training, Dr. Grenier engages in both basic and applied research on the relationships between culture, institutions, and power, particularly as they affect minority populations. Also, working with external and internal Collaboratory organizations, Dr. Grenier will focus on developing and supervising the implementation of the humanistic social science components of the project and will coordinate closely with Dr. Friedman in areas where the humanistic social sciences share conceptual, programmatic, and operational space with the humanities.
Dr. Patterson brings a background in public policy and administration, particularly policy related to underrepresented communities and the nexus between public service delivery and underserved communities, and leadership perspectives from African and African Diaspora Studies. She will focus not only on relationships with the project’s external Collaboratory members but also on coordination, exchange, and enrichment with courses and activities associated with both Public Policy and Administration and the African and African Diaspora Studies Program.
A historian focusing on race, sexuality, and health in the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries, and specifically on responses to HIV/AIDS in Black America. Dr. Royles will lead the creation of the “Histories from Different Perspectives” oral history archive for the project.

Participating Faculty

Dr. Carter is a cultural anthropologist and brings experience in multi-sited research on interviewing and ethnographic methodology in sensitive cultural, transnational spaces. Her perspectives and methodologies for community engagement are shaped by her work in Anthropology, African Diaspora Studies, and Asian Studies as well as her own lived experiences as a person of Black and Indigenous descent. Dr. Carter will focus on coordinating with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to develop creative community-based interviewing practices to address Indigenous perspectives on resilience through podcast storytelling and will coordinate outreach and curriculum components of the “Global Indigenous Podcast Network” component.
Dr. Grove, a political and cultural geographer, is an expert on resilience and how to enhance it, particularly at the community grassroots level. While working across several parts of the project, including the Neighborhood Storytelling and Arts component, Dr. Grove focuses on redesigning resilience. He and his research teamwork with community partners to explore how community organizers and neighborhood residents themselves identify and understand their risks and possible ways to reduce those, and how they define resilience and ways to increase it in daily life.
Dr. Ilcheva’s research has focused on the social and economic problems of urban South Florida. Over the past 18 years, she has worked on various economic development, social and behavioral projects, which examine quality of life issues through community indicators such as education, transportation, economic opportunity, and resilience. Most of the projects she leads include comprehensive data analysis and community engagement. Working with Dr. Murray (see below), Dr. Ilcheva will focus on the local socioeconomic “spine of distress” and its deepening susceptibilities to harm from both slow-onset and fast-onset hazard events.
Dr. Murray has over 25 years of professional and academic experience in city planning, housing, and economic development. He holds a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is a professionally certified planner with the American Planning Association. Dr. Murray is a leading expert in economic and housing market analysis. He has authored many of the landmark housing market and needs studies completed in South Florida in the past fifteen years, including the leading studies for Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties. Dr. Murray has also served as principal investigator (PI) on several recent equity studies including the Miami-Dade County Prosperity Study, State of Black and Hispanic Broward Reports, and Palm Beach County Housing Equity Study. Working with Dr. Ilcheva, Dr. Murray will focus on the local socioeconomic “spine of distress” and how larger-scale public policies encourage or hinder local neighborhood efforts to reduce risk and increase resilience.
A sociologist in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, Dr. Tardanico has focused on poverty and inequality and has a longstanding commitment to research in and advocacy for marginalized people, groups, and neighborhoods. While broadly engaged with other project components as well, Dr. Tardanico will focus on the six Collaboratory neighborhood studies, the Community-level presentations on risk and resilience solution options, and the Neighborhood Storytelling and Arts component.
As a critical GIS-scientist and geographer, Dr. Reid’s expertise focuses on ethical data practices, non-western and non-conventional ways of mapping, intergenerational knowledge transfer, and critical pedagogies. Her approaches are grounded in qualitative research, feminist methodologies, black geographies, Indigenous philosophies, and knowledge co-production. Her collaborative projects with youth, elders, NGOs, and local communities in Honduras, Cameroon, Senegal, and Puerto Rico, as well as with the Cree in Northern Quebec, cover topics such as health geography, community development, urban planning, territorial land claims, oral histories, traditional ecological knowledge, and revitalization of Indigenous language and culture. As part of Dr. Grove’s research team, she will co-develop alternate definitions, visions, and counter-maps of resilience with community partners based on their perspectives and experiences.

Administrative Staff

Carolyn Robertson is the Co-Director of the Extreme Events Institute Research Center. She plays a pivotal role in all operational and financial activities for the Project. Oversees all research administration activities and ensures efficiency and effectiveness of direct grant funds. Plays a key role in program development including: the National Science Foundation NHERI Wall of Wind Experimental Facility, Public Loss and Storm Surge modeling, and the Disaster Risk Reduction program.

A social worker and public administrator by training, David Dugard serves as the project’s Program Director. He works closely with the Project PI’s, community partners, students, and faculty to ensure the successful execution and completion of all the Projects new initiatives and activities.

Elizabeth Alvite (Liz), provides crucial administrative support for day-to-day program operations of the Project. Her along with the EEI team of Administrators work tirelessly to make sure the Project stays on track with budgets and vendors along with coordinating major Project events.

A certified meteorologist and outreach specialist deeply familiar with the types of natural hazards and risks faced and experienced by South Florida communities, Associate Project Coordinator Erik Salna supports the Program Director in carrying out the complex of plans and activities associated the components, faculty, and community partners.

Luz Maharaj (Lucy) is the Grant Administrator for the Extreme Events Institute and works closely with the Project team and community partners to process all contracts and partnership agreements.

Wendy Zepeda serves as Office Coordinator for the Extreme Events Institute and assists the Project with processing payments, travel, and the hiring process of our research fellows.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellows

Diane graduated from Florida International University with her Ph.D. from the Green School of International and Public Affairs. Her research focuses on economic development on Native American reservations, specifically the Seminole and Miccosukee Florida tribes. As a scholar of Lakota and Ute descent, and a faculty member working with the Global Indigenous Forum, with strength in tribal governance, Dr. Benitez has developed strong reciprocal relationships with local Indigenous communities in South Florida. As a post-doctoral co-organizer with the Mellon Commons for Justice grant, she continues to build these relationships between FIU and tribal governments. Her teaching courses have included public policy development, research design, ethics, and public budgeting. Her current research includes managing Social Security funding and inter-governmental relationships.
Claudia serves as a postdoctoral associate. In the summer of 2022, she taught a graduate summer course titled “Transfeminist Puerto Rico,” which was cross listed under Readings in Latin American History and Readings in American History, and will teach this same course for the summer 2023 semester. She has also contributed to the collection, transcription, and translation of oral history interviews and documentary materials in collaboration with community partners.

Sarah serves as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Florida International University and holds a PhD in Anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center. Sarah works at the intersection of ethnography, critical disaster studies, feminist geography, and digital humanities. On the “Commons for Justice” project, Sarah collaborates with interdisciplinary scholars and community partners to examine how resilience is being redesigned in Miami from the grassroots through qualitative research and analysis that contribute to neighborhood background reports and community engagement activities.

Sarah’s current book project analyzes the politics and lived experiences of debt and disaster recovery processes in Puerto Rico, specifically how community organizers and debt activists negotiate compound crises through mutual aid, spatial rescue/occupation, legal tactics, and protest. She is the Co-Founder of the Puerto Rico Syllabus, the Co-Editor-in-Chief of a public anthropology project called Home/Field, and a collaborator with the Red Regional de Apoyo Mutuo, a network of grassroots organizations in Puerto Rico. Sarah’s publications appear in both scholarly and popular outlets, including Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, Society and Space, Alternautas, Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm, Truthout, and Anthropology News. Previously, Sarah was a Visiting Researcher at the Instituto de Estudios del Caribe at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras (2018-2019) and served on the Executive Boards of the Puerto Rican Studies Association and the Latin American Studies Association-Puerto Rico Section.

Pre-Doctoral Research Fellows

  • Aarti Mehta-Kroll
  • David Ortiz
  • Frantzo Marcelin
  • Hector Valero Lopez
  • Joshua Falcon
  • Loreen Magarino
  • Sandra Londono Ardila
  • Rozzmary Palenzuela V.

Graduate Research Fellows

  • Patraillia Davis Bryant

Undergraduate Research Fellows

  • Alejandra Sepulveda
  • Amiah Dunham-Pulliam
  • Andrea Fonseca
  • Anyela de las Traviesas
  • Camila Ramirez Fayad
  • Deborah Ruiz
  • Edurne Sosa
  • Genai Witter
  • Hugo Gonzalez Escudero
  • Imani Doss
  • Julian Davis
  • J’lise Grant
  • Sebastian Rocha Alvarez
  • Sumaiya Al Lawati
  • Susan Iyosayi Aghedo
  • Thaly Marcu
  • Victoria Fonseca
  • Virginia Kuss

Employment Opportunities

Apply today be a part of the FIU ‘Commons for Justice project’ (FIU-‘CfJ’), generously funded by the Mellon Foundation.

Questions? Please reach out to the FIU Commons for Justice for more information at